As part of a bold new plan we’ve been hatching, my friend Stephan and I visited a community garden in the Bronx last weekend for a talk called City Chickens 101. It’s perfectly legal to keep hens in New York City. I don’t have a backyard, but Stephan does and he’s seriously considering it, in which case I’d be a not-so-silent partner. The hens would have good lives, we’d eat their eggs, and then, once they stopped laying, we’d face the ultimate question of whether to eat their flesh.
The talk was at Taqwa Community Farm, an acre of plots near Yankee Stadium. Once littered with hypodermic needles and trash, the place is now home to ten chickens and a beekeeping operation (beekeeping was recently legalized in New York City). The founder of the farm, Abu Talib, raises the hens and sells or gives away their eggs. At our seminar, sponsored by Just Food, Mr. Talib and Karen Washington of La Familia Verde Community Garden Coalition introduced us to the basics of city chicken keeping. 1
Here’s what you do:
- Build a predator-proof coop (henhouse) and chicken run out of wood and chicken wire. You can buy kits with everything you need, or design one yourself. The run should be big enough for the chickens to roam freely.
- Fill the henhouse with hay so it’s warm in winter, and use hay to cover the run.
- Build nesting boxes in the coop for hens to lay their eggs.
- Get at least two hens (they don’t like to be alone), and choose an appropriate breed: in New York City the best choices are Rhode Island Red, Australoop, and Cochins because they’re good egg-layers, fairly resistant to disease, and gentle. You can actually find hens on petfinder.com!
- Once a week shovel their poop and straw into a compost heap to create the “black gold” fertilizer gardeners dream about.
- Feed and water them twice a day; they’ll find bugs, grubs, and worms on their own.
- Collect their eggs frequently so they don’t eat them.
Some neighbors of Stephan’s are already doing this, so we’re going to talk to them and check out their coop and run. Stay tuned…
To prove how totally ignorant I was about some rather basic chicken facts, here are direct excerpts from my notes:
* Coop=their house. Run=their “yard.”
* Eggs are just eggs–like human ovulation, they must be fertilized by rooster to become chicken.
* Brooding=sitting on eggs and not doing anything else.
* Straw=remnants of hay.